For half a century, New York City was home to an archetypical white-collar worker: he (and later she) who would perform feats of creativity, daring and endurance — to get to work.
Consider three subway strikes.
In 1966, the Transport Workers Union greeted freshly sworn-in Mayor John Lindsay by stopping all subway and bus service. Earlier strikes had hit separate parts of transit, but it was the first time the entire urban system was shuttered.
One of Lindsay’s responses was also a first: Implore people not to come to work. Lindsay knew that he was saying “literally three-quarters of the people who normally would come into Manhattan should stay home,” as he put it. And he knew that, too, “it’s very difficult for a man, when he is shaving in the morning, to look at himself and say, ‘I’m not really essential.’ ”
White-collar New Yorkers proved his point — as they ignored his efforts. Grand Central and Penn Station had to close their doors to record crowds who lined up for hours to take (non-striking) commuter rail. People drove, creating what the traffic commissioner called “the longest rush hour in the city’s history.”
It was lower-wage workers who suffered, with 75 percent of people in the garment industry, employing 175,000 New Yorkers, unable to make it in.
The strike was hardly seen as a fortuitous sign for Gotham. Rather, it was a signal that the city was ungovernable — people wouldn’t listen to the new mayor — and inhospitable to blue-collar industry.
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